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City Lights: 'Blessing' is faith at its finest

October 16, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Surfer and Catholic priest Tom Munoz joins scores of people on the beach as they sing "God Bless America" at the conclusion of the Fifth Annual Blessing of the Waves at the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday. An interfaith service sponsored by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, the event merges surfing and spirituality. Sunday's event attracted several hundred participants, and featured speakers from the Jewish, Christian, B'hai and Islamic faiths. After the service, about two dozen boarders took to the surf, which measured 3 to 5 feet with fair shape.
Surfer and Catholic priest Tom Munoz joins scores of people… (Luis Sinco, Los…)

Everyone has questions they hate to be asked. High on my list is, "Are you religious?" I dread it especially if I sense that a "no" answer will prompt a barrage of other questions, some of them rhetorical.

Usually, in those circumstances, I say something on the level of "I'm spiritual, but not religious" or "I believe in a higher power, but not any organized religion." I suppose it's the same as posting a "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker on your car while declining comment on the Afghanistan war — a middle ground between taking sides and sounding like a churl.

The above reflections were inspired by my attendance Sunday at the fifth annual Blessing of the Waves in Huntington Beach. Each year, the Diocese of Orange brings together representatives from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism and other faiths for a program of speeches and songs. The subject matter is roughly split between God and the ocean — two concepts that frequently intertwine throughout, especially when the entire group walks from Pier Plaza to the shore to sing a concluding hymn.

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This event, for me, represents faith at its finest: a ceremony dedicated to a cause (serving a greater power and, more immediately, serving the ocean), inviting everyone to attend (no "right" or "wrong" religion specified), that ends in a gesture of camaraderie (paddling out together into the ocean) instead of a mission to convert the heathen.

If events like the Blessing were all that being religious entailed, I would give a relaxed "yes" whenever the question came up. Under the wrong circumstances, the word atheist sounds so harsh. Suppose I'm the kind of person who refuses the possibility of any higher power. Do I also not support the troops? Do I kick dogs and favor cutting funds for the children's hospital?

The late pundit Christopher Hitchens roused some furor when he wrote a book titled "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." I would never make a statement like that. I've attended Catholic masses and other services that were as warm and welcoming as the Blessing. I've covered more religious charity drives than I can count. I felt proud and humbled listening to my Mormon college roommate's stories about being a missionary in Peru.

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